BOOK REVIEW: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


Title: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer
Publication: November 12, 1998
Publisher: Anchor
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 368


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SYNOPSIS: (From Goodreads)

When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10, 1996, he hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin his long, dangerous descent from 29,028 feet, twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly toward the top. No one had noticed that the sky had begun to fill with clouds. Six hours later and 3,000 feet lower, in 70-knot winds and blinding snow, Krakauer collapsed in his tent, freezing, hallucinating from exhaustion and hypoxia, but safe. The following morning, he learned that six of his fellow climbers hadn’t made it back to their camp and were desperately struggling for their lives. When the storm finally passed, five of them would be dead, and the sixth so horribly frostbitten that his right hand would have to be amputated.

Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed journalist and author of the bestseller Into the Wild. On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world. A rangy, thirty-five-year-old New Zealander, Hall had summited Everest four times between 1990 and 1995 and had led thirty-nine climbers to the top. Ascending the mountain in close proximity to Hall’s team was a guided expedition led by Scott Fischer, a forty-year-old American with legendary strength and drive who had climbed the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1994. But neither Hall nor Fischer survived the rogue storm that struck in May 1996.

Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people — including himself — to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.


I do not read a lot of non-fiction books because I enjoy the escape that fiction gives me. However, I tend to pick up non-fiction where I think the story is important and needed to be told. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is one of those books. I had seen the movie Everest and I have heard snippets of stories from people who survived the May 10, 1996, but never in full so I figured now was the time.

This book was fascinating and horrifying all in one swoop. I will start with why I enjoyed it. I enjoy reading about things I will never ever get to do. I am 100% positive I will never climb Mt. Everest. I am not an outdoorsy person and I am definitely in no shape to climb to the highest point on earth. So learning how people are able to do it and how they have to acclimatize themselves to the lessened oxygen levels was fascinating. People like Hall and Fischer would have been cool people to know and pick their brains for all the knowledge that I will likely never know. I also love learning about people who seem like every day people but turn out to be heroes in their own selves, or just really good humans. Krakauer did a good job explaining the details of their journey and ascent to the top and how that is even possible.

That brings me to the sad part of the book. I’m sad for those who lost their lives on Everest in May of 1996. Rob Hall sounded like an extraordinary human that I easily could have gotten along with. Organized, take-charge, as safe as possible and respectful to all people, making sure everyone got the respect and appreciation they deserved. You can tell how good of a human he was by Krakauers explanation of him and comments and reactions of those on the mountain that day. Not a bad word was to be said about him and many people risked their lives to attempt to help him get down that day. While I did like Hall, there were many others I did not enjoy their personalities, but I felt the same emotions for them at the end of the book. That is a lot of families that never got to say goodbye. Krakauer did a fantastic job of describing these people and making you love them or dislike them based on their personalities.

I find that the details Krakauer included gave a unique look into this tragedy that answered a lot of questions most people would never know the answers to and also a more complete picture of what happened, how people got separated, and maybe why some didn’t make it off that mountain that day. I can see how some families may have been upset about his telling, although I don’t think it was wrong. I liked the way he described his own personal feelings and how some people were able to put it behind him while he had not been able to. It makes me wonder if now, some 16 years later, if he still feels guilty or at fault for not leaving his tent or going back up to help or if he has come to peace with the fact that he’d probably be dead too had he gone.

I really enjoyed Krakauers writing style and story telling. He filled in back stories every time we got a new person introduced so we would know who they are and their expertise that allowed them to be on that mountain that day. Krakauer was detailed, truthful, but also sensitive, in my opinion, when sharing this story and I appreciate being able to read it. I will definitely be checking out some more of his books he has written about other events in history.

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